Women’s Short-Term Employment Trajectories Following Birth: Patterns, Determinants, and Variations by Race/Ethnicity and Nativity

Lu, Yao; Wang, Julia Shu-Huah; Han, Wen-Jui

Despite a large literature documenting the impact of childbearing on women’s wages, less understanding exists of the actual employment trajectories that mothers take and the circumstances surrounding different paths. We use sequence analysis to chart the entire employment trajectory for a diverse sample of U.S. women by race/ethnicity and nativity in the first year following childbirth. Using data from the 1996–2008 panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation and sample selection models, we find that women employed before childbirth show a high degree of labor market continuity. However, a notable share of them (24 %) took less stable paths by dropping out or scaling back work. In addition, mothers’ attachment to the labor force is simultaneously supported by personal endowments and family resources yet constrained by economic hardship and job characteristics. Moreover, mothers’ employment patterns differ by race/ethnicity and nativity. Nonwhite women (blacks, Hispanics, and Asians) who were employed before childbirth exhibited greater labor market continuation than white women. For immigrant women, those with a shorter length of residence were more likely to curtail employment than native-born women, but those with longer duration of residence show greater labor force attachment. We discuss the implications of these findings for income inequality and public policy.

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December 10, 2019